By Mike Koetting February 6, 2020
I didn’t have very high hopes for the Impeachment proceedings and they did not fail to disappoint. I won’t try to make sense of either what happened or my own reflections on it, which are varied and mixed. But here are some thoughts, maybe loosely connected, maybe largely random.
If a bunch of guys find themselves on a basketball court—even if they don’t know each other–they will play a game without referees or written rules. They just know what’s fair. When there is a foul, they almost always manage to figure out a plausible resolution and get on with the game. Seems to me Congress didn’t perform that well.
About 15 years ago, Michael Mullane, a lawyer and professor, noted that while there were many things that existed regardless of whether or not we believed in them, there were things, like Tinkerbell, that existed only as long as we believed in them. He says:
When you get right down to it, the rule of law only exists because enough of us believe that it exists and believe that it must exist. It exists only so long as we insist that it exists and that everyone, even the non-believers, behave as if it does exist. The minute enough of us stop believing, stop insisting that the law is above us all, that we are all subject to the law—in that moment the rule of law will be gone, as silently and completely as a soap bubble drifting on a summer’s breeze.
Alan Dershowitz said one of the most absurd things ever uttered in the history of Congressional debates, and that my friends is a horse race. At the same time, he was also uttering one of the more revealing insights about what is going on. He said:
If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.
This a very succinct summary of the Republican view of the world. They believe that their election (all their elections) are in the public interest and, accordingly, whatever they do is okay. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, whatever. To decide that your view of the public interest is the most important imperative is precisely the opposite of the rule of law.
I suppose there is an alternative interpretation of Republican attitudes: they know that their actions are anti-democratic but just don’t care as long as they keep power. That explanation doesn’t make me feel any better.
The Borowitz Report: The Republican Party officially filed for moral bankruptcy on Tuesday morning, a move that many in the nation considered long overdue.
This is actually from 2018, but they march on like moral zombies.
Republicans argue that the impeachment proceeding is simply an exercise to undo the election of 2016. True, there are Democrats who have been urging for Trump’s impeachment since the election They didn’t do the country any favors with this rhetoric. But these were never more than a fringe group.
A thought experiment: Imagine that if after being elected, Trump had even tried to behave like a “normal” president. (I know; like most thought experiments, it requires a suspension of reality.) Do you really think we would have had an impeachment trial?
The impeachment proceedings are not about the outcome of the 2016 elections. They are about the reckless and largely outrageous things he has done since he was president—and keeps on doing.
Many people have asserted, “Well…the Democrats didn’t make their case. No one changed their mind.” This is faulty logic. Maybe no one changed their minds because everyone had already decided what they were going to believe—reality be damned.
Or maybe we have destroyed the machinery by which people can change their minds. A recent poll from Pew Foundation shows that Republicans rely enormously on Fox News. We all know this. But it was still jarring to me to see the extent of the Fox non-coverage of the impeachment debate. Detailed analysis by the Washington Post shows that Fox provided dramatically less coverage of the debate itself—particularly the Democratic side—than other outlets, including one day virtually limiting their exposure to the Democratic presentation to a critique of the argument from Republican commenters. It’s not just that their commentary was biased. They simply kept the unfiltered Democratic arguments from their viewers.
When combined with the ability to flood social media, which, by design, filters out any opposing views, it makes it virtually impossible for many voters to even get alternative views—let alone think about them.
This is clearly a change from 1974. Republicans started out opposing the impeachment of Nixon but as more and more information came out, they raised enough questions that Republican senators felt compelled to give Nixon a shove. But with Republicans so thoroughly insulated from bubble bruising news, it didn’t happen this time. Makes one miss the days of a centralized media.
As a side note, I would add that while there is occasional Democratic self-criticism about living in the Blue Bubble, at least when it comes to media, the same Pew poll shows a much wider range of news sources—and a clear preference for news sources that on their face are less biased. There is something bizarre about being more in the bubble because your news sources give you a broader range of facts.
The creation of an alternative reality among Republicans, led to a huge tide of funds raised. For them it was portrayed exclusively as a victory of their guy over the forces of retrograde liberal society. Trump is remarkable in his ability to portray getting impeached as a victory.
It makes total sense to me that Republicans didn’t want to call any witnesses. Some people speculated they might want to call witnesses to head off other revelations that would probably happen. That’s exactly why they didn’t want to call witnesses. Whatever else they are, most Republican senators are not rock-stupid. They knew that their only argument was that what he did wasn’t quite impeachable. Calling witnesses only ran the risk of springing a hole in that argument. Now, as new revelations fall out of the closet, they can always say “Oh, if only we had known….”
For me one of the most outrageous pieces of this entire episode is Rand Paul’s disclosure of the whistleblower’s name in public. Everyone who wants to know can find out who the whistleblower is. But it is against the law to disclose it and even Justice Roberts forbade Senator Paul from doing so. But he did it anyway. Pretty much like a six-year old looking you right in the eyes and daring you to punish him for his behavior. This is disgusting. And he will get away with it. This sure makes a person wonder what happens next.
I have no idea what will be the longer-run impact of this failed attempt to remove the President. In the short term, he will claim he’s been vindicated. But the real issue is what the voters will say come November. I don’t see any obvious evidence that Democrats will be hurt by the impeachment trial. More than enough of people who say they are independents (whoever the hell they are in this day and age) were not opposed to the impeachment process. Republicans were never likely to change their minds. The issue will continue to be turnout. I don’t think this will affect that.
If there is an impact, it will most likely be felt by those Republican Senators who are up for election in undecided states. One certainly hopes it becomes part of a successful bill of charges against them. This entire episode is another lesson in how important it is to flip the Senate. This is a big lift but is possible.
The long shot nature of actually removing Trump was obvious from the beginning. And there is the question of what precedent gets set by starting an impeachment process. I believe that impeaching presidents is a big deal. That is why I was disappointed by people who started calling for impeachment within days of the inauguration. If it came to pass that any time the party controlling the House is different from that of the president, we have an impeachment process, our government will become even more ineffective. That would be a bad thing.
Notwithstanding, in this case it needed to be done. Trump’s behavior is such a brazen nose-thumbing at the rule of law it had to be called out. Worse yet, his absurd claim that the phone call was “perfect” suggested he either doesn’t understand the law or was defying the rest of us to enforce it. I don’t see how the Democrats could let that pass unchallenged. History will probably show this was the right step, but history is stuff that happens in the future. In the present, Donald Trump is still president and it sure it going to be miserable hearing him claim he was exonerated.